Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Fragrance District

On a tip from a commenter, I recently made a pilgrimage to Manhattan's Fragrance district, in the vicinity of 28th St. and Broadway. I didn't find the perfume I was looking for (it's now on the top of my Christmas list), but it was an interesting trip nonetheless. I must have gone into about 12 stores, all right next to each other, all selling more or less the same things. One wall is the perfume counter, with all the usual brands you see in department stores. Then the other wall might be watches or electronics. All these stores are almost exactly the same, and it made me wonder how they all survive! There didn't seem to be any significant differences in price-- and if there were, wouldn't the neighboring stores all have a price war anyway? Other than that, if all the stores have the same merchandise, why would someone choose to buy in one rather than another?
It's not like there isn't a precedent for this kind of thing-- I think many businesses used to cluster themselves this way in most large cities. There is still a jewelry district in New York and a fashion district of sorts. Until recently there was a toy district, but I think most of that is now defunct. Many years ago there used to be a bookstore district-- now that makes more sense to me, as the merchandise on offer is much more likely to vary among the sellers, each of whom might have a different specialty, so the stores can feed each other business rather than really being competitors.
For certain things, it's kind of an appealing concept. If you know you need to buy a certain item, it's nice to think you can go to, say, the coat district, and look at a gazillion coats until you find the one you want, rather than having to go to more spread-out department stores where you have to wade past other merchandise to find the coat section, where the selection will be limited.
I wonder if you can get a map of New York that shows all its old merchandise districts...


Anonymous said...

I went shopping in Chinatown just last night- it's sort of the same deal. Two long blocks of nothing but purses, fragrance, sunglasses. I suppose they stay open with the cash from fakes (and yes, I did buy one, and it's beautiful), plus I think a lot of those business are own/run by the same people. So if all the money is going into the same pot, it might not matter as much.

mOOm said...

Do a Google search on: Hotelling, ice cream :)

mapgirl said...

We did this in Microeconomic Theory Class in college. Siting your business around other businesses makes for competitive pricing and can draw more customers in because everyone will know where to get the best prices. It's very odd, but it's shown to be true.

Now I'm curious about what perfume it is. My office mate thought he'd buy his wife a great Mother's Day gift by taking her near empty perfume bottle from her vanity and go out and buy it at lunch. I asked him what it was and looked at him, saying I'd never heard of it. I ended up doing him a favor and finding it at a specialty perfumerie and making them hold a bottle for him. Google helped on that search since I had the bottle's fine print.

Good luck!

Clink said...

That is the oddest thing about the city. All those district. My favorite was the flower shop/plant district - I want to say they were on 28th, 26th, or 23rd.

But, you figure, they wouldn't do it if there wasn't any money to be made off of it.

K said...

It's the mall concept. If you think about it a mall has many of the same time of shops all compiled together (I mean is Banana Republic that different from Benneton?). In New York, however, people shop differently then in the rest of the country. Because we don't have cars we don't do "big" grocery shopping the way suburbanites do. We're more likely to pop into a store for a day or two's worth of groceries. It's much more European. And because we don't have cars we don't want to waste time walking or on the subway going around town looking for the "right" thing. Hence the districts. They simplify things.

And there still is a garment district. It's not like it used to be but it's still the best place to buy fabric. A lot of the best stores, however, aren't storefronts. They're in office buildings and you have to know where to go.